PLAYERS have come and gone in the 10 successive years that La Salle has reached the UAAP women's volleyball finals, winning it six times. But one remains constant -Ramil de Jesus.
Now on his 21st year as head coach of the Lady Spikers, de Jesus has shown no sign of slowing down. He is in fact on track for an 11th career championship when top-seeded La Salle takes on second seed Far Eastern University in a best-of-three finale starting on Saturday.
So what makes de Jesus tick?
The answer is plain in simple.
There is nothing fancy about the guy. He isn't as good a dancer on the sidelines as Ateneo rival Tai Bundit, or as glib as Roger Gorayeb. Neither does he do those attention-grabbing and often senseless outbursts you routinely see from coaches on live television.
Instead, as his longtime assistant Noel Orcullo attests, the instructions during de Jesus' timeout huddles are a reflection of what the man is - snappy and direct to the point.
No drama, no sarcasm. Just a no-nonsense guy talking some sense into his players.
“‘Yung way ng pagco-coach ni coach Ramil, plain and simple,” said Orcullo. “Kapag nag-timeout, bigay ng instructions, ‘yung 30 seconds kita mo ang daming nabibigay na instructions and at the same time na-a-absorb ng bata.”
“Kay coach Ramil, direct to the point kung ano ang gagawin," he continued. “Dahil sa hardwork na ini-instill ni coach Ramil sa kanila, natututo ang mga bata, nailalabas ‘yung full potential. 'Yun lang naman ang ginagawa ni coach, walang special.”
Petron coach Shaq delos Santos agreed. He should know.
More than rival coaches in the UAAP and the Philippine Super Liga, delos Santos and de Jesus actually go back a long way. Delos Santos was a freshman at Far Eastern University in 1995 when de Jesus, a former outside spiker for the Morayta-based squad, was on his first year as trainer.
“Ang hirap kalaban, talagang ‘di ka pwedeng maging petiks, pag-aaralan mo talaga siya kasi marami siyang bala,” said delos Santos.
Sixteen years later in the finals of UAAP Season 73, delos Santos' Tigresses were already at set point, 24-19, and looking to extend the match to a fouth set when de Jesus' Lady Spikers mounted a comeback that still eats up delos Santos to this day.
Last year in the PSL Grand Prix, delos Santos’ Petron team was just a set away from the title leading 9-0 in the third set when de Jesus’ F2 Logistics turned the tide with an all-too-familiar comeback.
“Kaya pag nakuhaan mo ng isang set or dalawang set akala mo tapos na, no. Unless talagang masama ang laro, kaya nga sabi ko sa 'yo marami ‘yang bala eh, mabigat na kalaban talaga,” said delos Santos, shaking his head.
La Salle joined the UAAP in 1986 shortly after bolting the NCAA and the Lady Spikers won their maiden title in 2000 when de Jesus came in. He now has 10 UAAP championships, including two three-peats (2003-2005 and 2011-2013) that will become three if La Salle beats FEU in this year's finale.
De Jesus is an impressive 259-67 (win-loss) for his career at La Salle.
“Coach Ramil has a passion for the sport itself, and passion to train each player he handles,” shared Manila Santos-Ng, the only La Salle volleyball player whose jersey was retired by the Taft-based school.
“I remember him telling stories on how/what is volleyball during his time, and how it evolved. He loves the sport so much and all the players are lucky to be under him because aside from that, he knows how to develop players to reach their maximum potential,” she added.
F2 Logistics team manager Hollie Reyes, who was a part of La Salle’s first champion team in Season 62, couldn’t agree more.
Reyes was an outside spiker who de Jesus converted into a setter after one player got pregnant. She became one of the best in the league - thanks to de Jesus' painstaking guidance.
"Grabe tyinaga niya rin ako, nakita niya siguro may potential ako, I don’t know kung anong nakita niya,” said Reyes, adding de Jesus was no dedicated he often stayed over than go home to Bulacan. “Si coach Ramil, pinu-put niya ang time niya and devotion niya sa mga bata.”
RDJ’s tough love for his players is well-known. A lot of people don't get it. But the players actually do. It's also perfectly all right for the players that he is timid with praise.
Listen to Cha Cruz, former Lady Spikers skipper and a four-time UAAP champion: “It’s an advantage for us kasi alam niya, nakikita niya, na nagagawa namin ang gusto niya. Pero alam namin na kapag hindi niya kami pinapansin kahit may ginawa kaming maganda, alam namin na way niya pa rin ‘yun as motivation for us to do more.”
“Ever since college, kahit alam mong siya na lang ang inaantay mo na pumuri magiging ok na ang araw mo, hindi mo ‘yun makukuha from him,” said Aby Marano, former La Salle team captain and three-time UAAP champion.
“Kasi, sa tingin ko, nandoon pa rin ‘yung challenge kasi kapag binigay na niya ‘yun sa’yo tapos na ‘yung push mo na ibigay mo pa ang best mo,” she added.
“He might be strict but alam mo naman magiging fruitful.” said Reyes.
Over the years, however, some Lady Spikers feel their coach has lightened up a bit, so much that some of the current players, like Kim Dy, for example, can now enjoy light moments with the tough drilllmaster.
There was even a post-game interview last Valentine’s Day when the Lady Spikers gifted their coach not only with a win but also a bouquet of flowers, leaving de Jesus blushing and smiling from ear to ear revealing a pair of dimples.
“Oo, hindi na siya ganoon ka strikto. Sabi nga noong mga past Lady Spikers na, 'Coach, bakit ang laki na ng pinagbago mo,'” shared Orcullo.
But that doesn't mean he has softened up. One thing he can't tolerate - his players swore - is a diva.
“Kasi nga sa amin wala kaming tinuturing na star player,” said Orcullo. “Ke star player ka, ke hindi, kapag nag-attitude ka … alam mo naman si coach Ramil.”
“Kaya nga minsan sinasabi niya, ‘Kung gusto mong individual, mag-track and field ka.'"
For most of these players, de Jesus is a simply a father shaping the future of his daughters, who, more often than not, become successful wherever they ended up next.
“He is a disciplinarian like a real father. He is very strict when it comes to studies and sport. He makes sure we are all doing our home work and not lacking in anything. He will always ask us how our grades are and he will do his best to monitor and remind us from time to time,” Santos-Ng explained.
“The tough love coach Ramil has for the players may seem difficult to understand for the current players, but in time, they will realize how beautiful and effective these strategies are. I’m sure they will love coach Ramil back.”